Thursday, April 15, 2010

Driftwood Interview Part 3: New Brews

In this final part of my Driftwood interview, we talk about future plans for Driftwood beers, sneaking more hops into the mix, and advice for would-be brewers. But first, some quickfire questions:

- What's your favourite Driftwood Beer?
JM: The Sartori was a fun beer. Just that whole time: driving out and meeting Christian Sartori, [owner of the Sartori Cedar Ranch, a fledgling hop farm south of Chilliwack, BC] picking up the fresh hops. It felt like something unique and exciting. I loved the whole experience, and I love the big beers.
K: Sartori and the Hildegaard, definitely.

- Hop lovers eh? Favourite IPAs?

JM: Locally speaking, I think the Phillips IPA is great, and they're doing incredible things at Central City Brewing with the Red Racer IPA. Other than that, the Boonville Anderson Hop Ottin', Green Flash from San Diego do great IPAs, and [Jason's eyes glaze over] Pliny the Elder is fucking awesome.

- What about your least favourite beer?
JM: Least favourite? Bud Light Lime makes me want to stake myself.

- Best pub in BC?
JM: Alibi room, no question. Nigel the owner is awesome. He'd drive down here if we had a new beer and pick it up in person, he's so keen to get the good stuff on tap.

- Best beer producing regions of Canada?
JM: Vancouver, Victoria and Montreal.

- No love for Saskatchewan? Paddock Wood is doing some good stuff right now...
JM: True! You know how Paddock Wood started out? They used to be the best homebrew supplies in the country by far. We'd take trips to Saskatoon from Edmonton just to pick up brewing supplies. They'd have stuff you couldn't get in the states even, people would drive from all over. They began putting out kits and I guess they just decided they might as well go all out and sell the beer.
Jason shows me the small office where the business side of things takes place. As we open the door, Jason's dog Suzie jumps at me from behind piles of brewing books, invoices and beer-bottle labels. Jason spends time out here working out new recipes and ideas for Driftwood while Kevin oversees the day-to-day management of the brewing. "For me the excitement of the physical process of brewing is kinda lost now. What I get a kick out of is dreaming up new stuff. It's so gratifying to have an idea form and end up out there in a tank, and then on to whoever drinks it."

- Speaking of which, are more beers on the way?
JM: As a matter of fact... There's an exciting new seasonal on the way, and the labels are already printed. We're calling it "Belle Royale." It's a triple golden ale with a restrained hop profile, and brewed with sour cherries. Belle Royale is a brew of whimsy, but we're confident it's going to work out great.

- Great news! But what about the hop-heads? You have to give us a little something?
KH: Oh, we're dying for a big hop beer.
JM: It's on the way. The Hildegaard did stupendously well, so we're probably going to introduce a fifth beer in continuous rotation: a 6–6.5%ABV IPA with 60-70 IBUs, malty and tons of northwest hops.
KH: In the meantime we've been satiating our desire for more hops by increasing the finishing hops in the Driftwood Ale, slowly but surely.
JM: The challenge right now is tank-space. We're going to wait until after the Sartori in the fall. We're brewing twice as much this year, a full forty-seven hectoliters.
We head back out into the warehouse. Suzie follows me around as I take a few final photos of the brewery. It's an impressive operation, especially as it was nothing more than a few home-brew recipes as little as two years ago. I ask Jason what advice he'd give a brew-newbie with aspirations of starting up an operation. "Start homebrewing, some of the best beer I've tasted anywhere is homebrew beer. You get other guys who start an operation after taking a course of study, and maybe spying a 'market opportunity', but somehow their beer always ends up tasting not-so-good." Jason advocates Dave Miller's homebrewing book as a "sensible system based on sound science." He tells me that once the recipes are good, brewing basically comes down to effective multitasking and attention to detail. "Plus you don't have to spend half-a-million. Some guys set up on $20,000 or less and grow from there." I presume these are meant as words of encouragement, but he clearly hasn't seen my bank account.

Driftwood already distributes beer across southern Vancouver Island, Vancouver, and parts of the Okanagan — which is almost as far as Jason "reasonably expects" they'll ever reach. And that's fine with him. "But there must be something more you dream about doing?' I say. He admits a pipe-dream involving moving to a small ranch with a few acres, growing their own hops, raising livestock, perhaps even a micro-fromagerie and a small bistro... I wouldn't be surprised if it all happens sooner rather than later, I say. "Oh, we haven't blown our wad yet," he replies, "we haven't even come close to it."

Many thanks to Jason and Kevin for such a rich interview. Watch this space for an interview with another of Victoria's prestigious craft-breweries — Phillips Brewing Company — coming in a few days.

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